Wei Yuan and the Cultural Politics of Representing the World in Modern Chinese Geography

This presentation is going to examine the cultural politics of representing the world in nineteenth century China through the reading of Wei Yuan’s 1852 geography book Haiguo tuzhi [An illustrated gazetteer of the maritime countries]. It explores how modern Western geographical discourse and traditional Chinese geographical discourse conflict and co-opt in this supposedly first modern world geography work in China. The specific question I would like to raise here is: what kind of cultural logic was at work behind the use of modern Western geographical knowledge in the Chinese representation of the world and simultaneously what kind of impact did such use leave on the Chinese geographical writing? I hope this presentation will shed some light on the global aspirations the Chinese literati had at the beginning of what we now call Chinese modernity.

Author: Hongbing Zhang